I was influenced by both my parents’ interest in wildlife, and I knew from an early age that I wanted to spend my life focussed around India’s wildlife, wild tigers in particular. I remember much of my childhood spent in the jungles. I was sent to school in England for higher education. Although I returned for holidays, I was very homesick and spent most of my time plotting on how I could get back again. Since I knew what I wanted to do (although not exactly!) I couldn’t understand why I had to be locked away in a faraway land, away from all the things that I loved. It didn’t take long before I was back again, and took up wildlife photography, which wasn’t considered much of a career in those days.
From making documentaries to leading an NGO I have had three avatars — as a wildlife photographer, a wildlife filmmaker, and a wildlife activist.
On wildlife conservation
My advice to the young people of today would be to remain conscious and knowledgeable about the state of our environment, and to do their bit in its protection. This does not mean that everyone should give up well-paid jobs and start working for conservation, but in their own way, everyone can support the movement.
The single most important thing is to stay informed of the status of our wildlife and to spread awareness of the issues. This can be done through the media, current publications and the Internet. www.thetruthabouttigers.
org is one such informative website with comprehensive information.
Young people can also create awareness, undertake fundraising for conservation and volunteer with wildlife organisations.
I was fortunate in that I had clarity about what I wanted to do from an early age, and I didn’t even consider any other option. I guess what can be learnt from my example is that determination, knowledge and sincerity does work!
One of the biggest challenges is the enforcement of our wildlife laws. India has always been a path-breaker in terms of framing wildlife laws and policies. Unfortunately the implementation of these laws has been weak. Effective enforcement is one of the big challenges that the government faces today, especially at the state level.
Another challenge for the country is creating a sympathetic environment towards the tiger. When local people become stakeholders and truly benefit from tiger conservation, and civil society begins to realise the importance of saving this incredible animal and begins to lobby for its protection, only then will we be able to secure a future for wild tigers.
I am worried about the lack of political will in the Indian states to save tigers, and in particular I am worried about the growing demand of various parts of a tiger from our neighbours in China.
My dream is to have healthy, breeding tiger populations, with sufficient undisturbed forest land; and an India that treasures the incredible privilege of being home to the most charismatic animal on this planet.
Agony and ecstasy
Probably my greatest moment of agony was seeing so many fresh tiger skins being paraded in a festival in Tibet in August 2005. The skins were a fashion statement and the people seemed to be oblivious of the great destruction they were creating.
A moment of pure ecstasy was seeing, for the first time, in 1982, a tigress suckling her small cubs in Kanha National Park.
As told to Ayesha Banerjee